Gameday: Golden Knights in need of rebound performance against Blackhawks
The winning streak is over. Vegas will look to start another one against a team it’s never lost to.
For what it’s worth, the Vegas Golden Knights couldn’t have a better opponent to face after having their season-long seven-game winning streak end on Thursday.
How about a team Vegas has never lost to?
The Golden Knights will look to start a new winning streak as they face the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Saturday.
Vegas has played five games against Chicago. The Golden Knights have won all five. That would be what we call batting 1.000. It really shouldn’t be such an accomplishment, given how the Blackhawks continue to reside in the standings basement, but this is still a franchise with plenty of championship pedigree this decade alone.
But the Golden Knights are in the position to string as many wins as possible to keep pace with the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division. Vegas’ 3-2 loss to San Jose on Thursday ended a 10-game point streak and 12-game point streak. More importantly, Vegas dropped to third in the Pacific; one point behind San Jose and four behind Calgary, with both holding a game in hand over Vegas.
Here’s what to watch for.
Alex Tuch is en fuego
Can you imagine if 89 never got hurt and played the first part of the season? He might be on an even more unprecedented tear.
Tuch enters play with an eight-game point streak (two goals, seven assists). Only David Perron and Erik Haula have accumulated such a streak. He’s been the best skater for the Golden Knights. No matter who he plays with (Brandon Pirri one day, Max Pacioretty the next), Tuch is a point machine.
Vegas goes as 89 goes right now, with the top line down a man (Reilly Smith) and not producing offensively as it should. Gerard Gallant calls it the “top-two lines” and the combo of 73-26-89 is producing right now.
Brandon Pirri is on board
Saturday will mark the 10th game since Pirri was recalled from AHL Chicago (twice or thrice, depending who you ask). Once the buzzer sounds, Pirri will be on the Golden Knights for the remainder of the season — barring he gets sent down, has to clear waivers and he won’t, which means he’ll sign with some team at some point.
Pirri is benefiting from being on the second line with Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch. Once Reilly Smith returns to the lineup, and Max Pacioretty goes back down with 26 and 89, Pirri likely goes to the third line with Cody Eakin and TBD.
In the meantime, Pirri will get his chance. He’s been wanting one. He’s earned one. Whether he makes the most of it or not will come in time. That starts tonight in the city where he’s played a bulk of hockey for the past year and a half.
Closing this stretch strong
The Golden Knights have five games remaining before the All-Star break/bye week. That San Jose game would’ve made this final stretch more tolerable, in their minds, had that resulted in a win.
Including tonight, Vegas has four games against Central Division opponents — that includes a road trip to Winnipeg on Tuesday and at home against Nashville on Jan. 23. This is a crucial stretch to build momentum.
This could be a trap game for Vegas. Patrick Kane (7G, 7A in his past six games) is playing as Patrick Kane does. Chicago has been losing, but it’s been playing tough (lost 4-3 in OT to Nashville; lost 4-3 to Calgary; defeated Pittsburgh 5-3; lost 4-3 in OT to the Islanders all in the past four games).
To say Vegas could use a win after the deflation on Thursday would be an understatement.
How to watch
Time: 5:30 p.m.
TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV
Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM